Ethanol Information 04/13/17 8:00:45 AM|
What is Ethanol?
Ethanol (which is also called ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, and abbreviated as EtOH) is an alcohol-based alternative fuel that is blended with gasoline to produce a fuel with a higher octane rating and fewer harmful emissions than unblended gasoline. Ethanol is produced by fermenting and distilling grains such as corn, barley and wheat. Another form of ethanol, called bioethanol, can be made from many types of trees and grasses, although the process is more difficult. Ethanol production supports farmers and creates domestic jobs. And because ethanol is produced domestically, from domestically grown crops, it reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil and increases the nation’s energy independence.
How is Ethanol made?
Ethanol can be made from any crop or plant that contains a large amount of sugar or components that can be converted into sugar, such as starch or cellulose. As their names imply, sugar beets and sugar cane contain natural sugar. Crops such as corn, wheat and barley contain starch that can be easily converted to sugar. Most trees and grasses are made of cellulose, which can also be converted into sugar, although not as easily as starch.
Most ethanol is produced using a four-step process:
1.The ethanol feedstock (crops or plants) are ground up for easier processing;
2.Sugar is dissolved from the ground material, or the starch or cellulose is converted into sugar;
3.Microbes feed on the sugar, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide as byproducts; and
4.The ethanol is purified to achieve the correct concentration.
It is also possible to produce ethanol through a wet-milling process, which is used by many large ethanol producers. This process also yields byproducts such as high-fructose corn syrup, which is used as a sweetener in many prepared foods.
Another process is:
- Milling: the corn (or barley or wheat) will first pass through hammer mills, which grind it into a fine powder called meal.
- Liquefaction: The meal will then be mixed with water and alpha-amylase, and will pass through cookers where the starch is liquefied. Heat will be applied at this stage to enable liquefaction. Cookers with a high temperature stage (120-150- degrees Celsius) and a lower temperature holding period (95 degrees Celsius) will be used. These high temperatures reduce bacteria levels in the mash.
- Saccharification: The mash from the cookers will then be cooled and the secondary enzyme (gluco-amylase) will be added to convert to the liquefied starch to fermentable sugars (dextrose), a process called saccharifaction.
- Fermentation: Yeast will then be added to the mash to ferment the sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide. Using a continuous process, the fermenting mash will be allowed to flow, or cascade, through several fermenters until the mash is fully fermented and then leaves the final tank. In a batch fermentation process, the mash stays in one fermenter for about 48 hours before the distillation process is started.
- Distillation: The fermented mash, now called “beer”, will contain about 10% alcohol, as well as all the non-fermentable solids from the corn and the yeast cells. The mash will then be pumped to the continuous flow, multi-column distillation system where the alcohol will be removed from the solids and the water. The alcohol will leave the top of the final column at about 96% strength, and the residual mash, called stillage, will be transferred from the base of the column to the co-product processing area.
- Dehydration: The alcohol from the top of the column will then pass through a dehydration system where the remaining water will be removed. Most ethanol plants use a molecular sieve to capture the last bit of water in the ethanol. The alcohol product at this stage is called anhydrous (pure, without water) ethanol and is approximately 200 proof.
- Denaturing: Ethanol that will be used for fuel is then denatured with a small amount (2-5%) of some product, like gasoline, to make it unfit for human consumption.
- Co-Products: There are two main co-products created in the production of ethanol: carbon dioxide and distiller’s grain. Carbon dioxide is given off in great quantities during fermentation and many ethanol plants collect that carbon dioxide, clean it of any residual alcohol, compress it and sell it for use to carbonate beverages or in the flash freezing of meat. Distiller’s grains, wet and dried, are high in protein and other nutrients and are a highly valued livestock feed ingredient. Some ethanol plants also create a “syrup” containing some of the solids that can be a separate product sold in addition to the distiller’s grain, or combined with it. Ethanol production is a no-waste process that adds value to the corn by converting it into more valuable products.
E85 is the term for motor fuel blends of 85% ethanol and just 15% gasoline. It is a renewable biofuel designed for use in Flexible Fuel Vehicles. Ethanol is an alcohol made from corn and other starch crops like barley and wheat that have been converted into simple sugars and then fermented and distilled. Ethanol has been used in cars since Henry Ford designed his 1908 Model T to operate on alcohol. E85 keeps your fuel system clean because it burns cleaner than regular gas or diesel and doesn't leave behind gummy deposits. Not concerned about engine life? Then perhaps performance is important to you. E85 has the highest octane of any commercially available automotive fuel at more than 100. This compares very favorably to the octane rating of regular unleaded of 89 or premium of 93.
What are the benefits of using Ethanol?
Overall, ethanol is considered to be better for the environment than gasoline. Ethanol-fueled vehicles produce lower carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions, and the same or lower levels of hydrocarbon and oxides of nitrogen emissions. E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, also has fewer volatile components than gasoline, which means fewer emissions from evaporation. Adding ethanol to gasoline in lower percentages, such as 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline (E10), reduces carbon monoxide emissions from the gasoline and improves fuel octane.
Flexible fuel vehicles that can use E85 are widely available and come in many different styles from most major auto manufacturers. E85 is also widely available at a growing number of stations throughout the United States. Flexible fuel vehicles have the advantage of being able to use E85, gasoline, or a combination of the two, giving drivers the flexibility to choose the fuel that is most readily available and best suited to their needs.
Ethanol production supports farmers and creates domestic jobs. And because ethanol is produced domestically, from domestically grown crops, it reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil and increases the nation’s energy independence.
What is E85?
In addition to clean air benefits, E85 is a "Renewable Fuel". Why is it considered renewable? Ethanol is made from grain produced on farms across the country. Although ethanol can be produced from a variety of grains, today it is made primarily from corn. The energy of sun is captured in the corn as it grows. When the corn is processed into ethanol, the energy of the sun is converted to ethanol. The following season, a new crop is planted and more fuel and energy are harvested. Contrast this to the production of crude oil buried deep within the earth's core. The oil we're burning took hundreds of millions of years to form. Once extracted from the ground, the oil is not renewed... at least for another couple hundred million or so years. When burned, fossil fuels release carbon, once locked deep within the earth's core, into the atmosphere. Science points to these releases as one of the leading causes of global warming. Unlike fossil fuels, E85 actually reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The grain or other biomass used to make ethanol absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows.
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